Project ReSpenny: The Plan

In February 2007, my parents bought me a 1993 Land Rover Range Rover County LWB. It came from a fellow Land Rover owner in Virginia, it had lived its life between New Jersey and Washington, D.C., and though it needed a little work, it was a solid truck. A fourteen-year-old modern classic, the Rangie got me through high school and college, and was my gateway drug into the Land Rover community.

But I didn’t really know what I was doing with these things until a few years hanging around the Land Rover community hands-on. One thing I didn’t get was where and how badly these things can rust. So, in oblivion, I continued driving it around the salty Northeast, as crossmembers and sills and body mounts started to chip away.

Finally, in early 2015, I realized that my beloved Range Rover Classic needed a lot of repairs. It was rusting. It needed a brake job. I kept having to replace the exhaust to pass emissions. I’d gone through several pretty bad ignition issues that had led to some tense off-road group trips. The driver’s door was literally falling off. It was time to get a new daily driver, so I got my Discovery 1, a project on its own. I rebuilt it, drove it around the Northeast, did a lot of work, drove it to California, and decided that now I felt pretty good about myself and wanted to deal with the old RRC.

At this point, the rust has gotten pretty bad from sitting off to the side of the driveway for several years. The sills are totally soft; the bottom of the A-pillar on the driver’s side having fallen on the ground of its own volition. I have a welder, but it’s clear the only rational solution here is to do a frame-up rebuild with a new body shell from a truck being otherwise scrapped. The chassis is pretty good, and many body sections are surprisingly solid, but what’s bad is very bad and above my beginner’s skill set.

Body swaps, however, seem not that difficult, in a relative way. They do it a lot in the United Kingdom, with both Range Rover Classics and Discoverys. It’s even common now with the Discovery Series II here; a poor-quality rear frame section design means a lot of really solid bodies and drivetrains are getting new galvanized chassis underneath them. So…why not my truck?

The plan is a Northeast-proof truck. At the least, I will be galvanizing the frame. I’d love to galvanize the new bodyshell, something that some people have, in fact, done. Everything will get rust-prevention coatings. All of the rubber will be new from bushings to belts and hoses. Some parts will be off-road uprated, and as that part of the project comes along, cash permitting it may become a mid-tier off-road beast. The interior will get renovated some. The entire truck will get a ten-foot paint job — the best part about a Range Rover Classic is that the body panels bolt to the inner bodyshell, so while the core of the truck won’t be mine, the outside will be almost all original material, my dents and all. Only thing is, I’ve always hated the Beluga Black, so I’m thinking a change of shade might be in order.

This is not a minor task. It’s not an economically intelligent task, perhaps. I could have one of my friends from the Mendo_Recce list in California find me a stunning western Range Rover Classic, truck it home or have another epic roadtrip, and drive it here. But just one winter stored outside, driving on salty highways, will send it down the same path. The only way to have your cake and eat it too is to do something like this — a frame-off no-holds-barred winter defense.

When I took this truck off the road in the spring of 2015, this whole project was an optimistic pipe dream. It’s a pathetically sentimental endeavour, for sure; I’ve tried and failed to junk this truck several times now as it’s sat in the driveway stationary.

Now, three years later, I’m ready to tackle it and see every challenge that it can bring on. I love nothing more than blazing trails in the Land Rover world, and this is a great chance to go off-piste.